Browse The Gjenvick-Gjønvik Archives Home Page

CUMIN - Defined

CUMIN—Name of a seed used in Europe as a flavoring for stews, in cheeses, and by the Germans in bread.

White Cumin Seed:

White cumin is also an umbelliferous herb (Cuminum Cyminum, Linn.) ; an account of the cultivation and uses of this and other spices is given in the Bulletin of the Imperial Institute, vol. xi., 1913, pp. 131-136.

A sample of the seed sent to the Imperial Institute was submitted to brokers in London, who stated that it was rather small and stalky, but that it would probably be worth between 70s. and 80s. per cwt. (January, 1917), although they were of opinion that its pre-war value would not have been much over 20s. per cwt.

Black Cumin Seed:
These seeds, sometimes known as fennel-flower seeds, are the product of Nigella sativa, Linn.(Nat. Ord. Ranunculaceae).

The plant is an annual, native to the Mediterranean region, and the seeds, which are used in the East for flavoring curries, etc., and in Egypt as comfits on cakes, have an aromatic fennel-like odor when fresh and a slightly acrid taste.

There is a small export of black cumin seed from Cyprus. There is, however, but little demand for this seed.

History of Cumin

The officinal or common cumin. The cumin is a native of Upper Egypt and Ethiopia but has found its way over a great part of Asia and is extensively cultivated in Sicily and Malta.

That it was cultivated by the ancient Hebrews, is proved by the allusions to it in the Old and New Testaments: for instance, in Isaiah xxviii. 27 — “But the fitches are beaten out with a staff, and the cumin with a rod and again, in Matthew xxiii. 23— “For ye pay tithes of mint, anise, and cumin.”

In Pliny’s time, cumin seed was reputed to have the effect of producing paleness. He says— “It is generally stated that the disciples of Porting Latro, so celebrated among the professors of eloquence, used to employ a drink made of it, for the purpose of imitating that paleness which had been contracted by their master through the intensity of his studies.”

He also assures us, that Julius Vindex, the son of a Roman senator, by the same means played upon the feelings of those who were looking for his death in the hope of benefiting by his will.

It was also used by the ancient Greek physicians, who speak of two varieties of the plant. A great many medicinal properties were attributed to the seed.

Pliny gives it a place also amongst culinary vegetables as a condiment, for he says— “but it is cumin that is best suited of all the seasoning herbs to squeamish and delicate stomachs.”

It is still retained in our Materia Medico, but is Seldom used; it is, however, frequently employed in veterinary medicine.

It is largely employed in India and in Southern Europe as a carminative and stomachic; and in Malta and Sicily, where it is most extensively cultivated, it is called Cumino aigro, or hot-cumin, to distinguish it from anise, which is called Cumino dolce, or sweet cumin.

Return to Top of Page

Vintage Culinary Terms - "C"